This sermon was preached at Peace Hill Christian Fellowship on March 6th, 2011. To listen to the audio of this sermon, just click on this link – Micah 6A.
Micah 6:1-8 — HOW TO BE GOOD AT WORSHIP
Imagine walking up to the church one Sunday morning, dressed nicely, smiling, ready to sing a few songs and see your friends and hear an inspiring talk…when suddenly you are halted by a wild-eyed man who’s standing in the doorway, claiming that God is calling you and the whole congregation to answer for the difference between what you say on Sunday morning and how you live the rest of the week! That’s sort of what happens in Micah 6. God’s prophet Micah confronts the people at their place of worship with a cosmic lawsuit: and they are the defendants. How will they respond? How would we?
GOD HAS MADE A WAY FOR PEOPLE TO LIVE IN RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM.
In the opening verses of this chapter, as if in a courtroom, God calls the universe to be a witness of the lawsuit between him and his people, the nation of Israel. He asks them, “How have I made you tired of me? What have I done to deserve the way you treat me?” The prophet reminds the people of how God rescued them from slavery and death in Egypt; how he gave them leaders to guide them through the wilderness and to build a strong nation; how he protected them from enemies such as King Balak (who tried to curse them; see Numbers chapter 22); and how he brought them into the promised land. Each event shows the grace of God, who didn’t have to rescue this raggedy bunch of slaves, or stick with them when they complained and rebelled. These events, and the commemoration of them, were the core of Israel’s worship, as Christmas and Easter and the weekly reminders of Christ’s death and resurrection are at the core of ours.
BUT WE TRY TO PLEASE GOD BY BRIBES OF THROUGH RELIGIOUS SHOW, INSTEAD.
The hypothetical worshiper does not deny God’s complaint. He doesn’t pretend to be innocent. Instead he responds: “How can I safely/worthily come to worship God? How can I stand confidently before God?” or “How can I please God?” He considers some options, increasing in extravagance: first, burnt offerings; then year-old calves…then (stepping it up to lavish proportions): with thousands of rams, perhaps, or with ten-thousands of rivers of olive oil? (Oil was normally sold in pints and quarts; this was an unbelievably expensive offering). This worshiper reaches his extreme by wondering if God needs to be appeased with human sacrifice; “shall I offer my firstborn for my sin, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
The sacrifices, which had been put in place by God to remind the people of sin’s serious consequences, had become perverted into a bribe or a way of keeping God’s justice at a manageable distance. In what ways is our worship in danger of such misuse?
- When we care about performance or about what will attract people to our church, more than we care about what truly represents God and shows a worthy response to his grace
- When we fake emotions during prayer or worship so that others will be impressed with our worshipful appearance or knowledge
- When we give money to good causes merely to ease our consciences, without caring for (or praying for, or trying to know) the people who we are helping
TRUE WORSHIP SHOUS BE SHOWN IN HUMILITY TOWARD GOD AND JUSTICE TOWARD PEOPLE.
After this nearly frantic listing of religious options by the guilty worshiper, God’s prophet responds calmly but firmly: “No, none of those things will cut it. God has shown human beings what is appropriate (that’s what “good” means here: what’s appropriate), and has repeatedly told them how he requires them to live.” It’s not a mystery. God wants us to do justice with faithful love, and to walk carefully (or “humbly”) with him.
—Justice is “giving each person his due” or as George MacDonald said, “giving everyone fair play”…both positively (rewarding good deeds, paying a fair wage, providing shelter/food/care, helping people to thrive) and negatively (punishing evil). Justice is repeatedly described as one of God’s core characteristics, and defending the defenseless is what he’s all about (Deuteronomy 10:17-18; Proverbs 17:15; Psalm 98:9; Proverbs 11:1). We must be people who live this way.
–And we are to practice this justice out of an attitude that loves the way God does, with compassion and faithful love. “Mercy” here is the Hebrew term chesed, which describes God’s faithful love. So displaying “merciful justice” means that we show justice even toward those who don’t treat us very well. Our justice should not be based on feelings, but on enduring loyalty to God’s ways (in Matthew 5:45, Jesus tells us to imitate God who gives good things even to people who ignore him).
—Walking humbly with God: In his The Message translation of the Bible, Eugene Peterson translates this phrase as “don’t take yourself too seriously; take God seriously.” It connects with the “justice” and “mercy” aspects: make God’s priorities your priorities, and be willing to let yours go, where they conflict with God’s.
Worship God through Christ, in Words and Actions. The coming of Christ, and the New Testament’s teaching about him, do not change God’s requirements. We are still to show our love for God by our concrete actions toward others (I John 3:16-18). Nor have God’s justice and mercy changed. But we access them in a new way. We know that we are not merciful, just, or humble enough to come before God on our own. Our worship always falls short, as do our lives. But the same God who graciously rescued Israel when they were enslaved in Egypt has graciously rescued us when we were enslaved to a cycle of sinning. Instead of us giving “our firstborn” for “the sin of our soul” (Micah 6:7), God gave his only son, who willingly absorbed our sin and its punishment into himself (John 3:16). The book of Hebrews says that we come to God now, not through sacrifices, or bribes, or even our own good character, but through Christ who safely brings us to God (Hebrews 10:19-23).
God forgives our sins, in Christ, but that’s not the end-point (it’s not, “a clean slate and now you’re on your own”). Our bond with Christ also brings us (in addition to forgiveness) a new attitude that begins to change us into people who will serve God and others, and will worship in a way that encourages good deeds (Hebrews 10:24-25).